New water system showers C.C. of Maryland with beauty

John Steadman

August 07, 1992|By John Steadman

So much history, going back to when it was a land grant from King George III, is woven into the Country Club of Maryland that it was painful to see it neglected, demeaned and denied the chance to reach its full level of expectations. Not any longer. It's -- an old-fashioned golf course built by a renowned architect. The style is reflective of how they were built before the sprawling, often-monotonous modern designs began to proliferate the landscape.

But now the Country Club of Maryland is proud to provide notice of its rebirth. It was even baptized yesterday by virtue of its first complete watering system that covers tees, fairways and greens. In the past, members had to apologize for playing conditions every summer when the ground would take on the texture of a concrete roadbed.

It was called the "speedway" but not in affectionate terms. Other courses had irrigation facilities but not the baked-out C.C. of Maryland. That's all changed. The new ownership is putting money into the operation and it shows. Undoubtedly, it takes an infusion of "green" to make it green.

Instead of having to apologize for the way it looked, the current membership is elated to point to the progress that has been made. Results prove again nature can't do it all. First there has to be a desire to upgrade and then the investment in an improvement plan to bring about the physical changes.

The course has the appearance of being newly painted with a huge green brush. The presence of Paul O'Leary, the new superintendent who is a graduate of the University of Maryland with degrees in business and agronomy, gives the course what it has always needed -- a man with proven skills who would allow it finally to achieve its potential.

If golf had a "comeback of the year" award it would be shared by O'Leary and the golfers he serves. The course opened in 1924 as the Rodgers Forge Golf & Country Club and later, for a short time, was known as Terra Mariae. But for the last 50 years it has been the Country Club of Maryland, the golfing home of professional Andy Gibson, a leader in Middle Atlantic area tournament wins, a raconteur with a captivating Scottish accent and now the pro emeritus.

In previous years, members paid their dues and got little in return -- except the congeniality associated with the game. Come summertime, the fairways browned out and shots, upon landing, rolled almost as far as they carried in the air.

"This watering system is state of the art," proclaimed O'Leary, who has the touch of an artist when it comes to dressing up a golf course and making it attractive.

"Having the capacity to water takes us out of the dim past and gives hope and pleasure for both the present and future. There are miles of pipes and wires underground. You wonder how it all works but it does. It's like magic. We can have water spraying in a matter of seconds."

There was always an innate allure to the Country Club of Maryland because of the way it was designed by Herbert Strong, an Englishman, whose credits include the building of Woodholme C.C., and two classic, internationally known championship layouts -- Canterbury in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Saucon Valley near Bethlehem, Pa.

Strong used the Maryland property to take advantage of its huge old trees, the streams on the back nine, mapping out numerous doglegs and, overall, giving it an identity that prevents it from becoming a montage of monotony. The course was always there, as a gift of Mother Nature, but Strong caressed it into a thing of beauty.

The years have helped its maturity but little money was put back into the course and the C.C. of Maryland suffered. Don Keefer, the present professional, recognizes what has happened. "A new interest has been generated," he said. "The visits by potential members have increased and everything looks good, including the new pro shop. Spirit is high."

Connie Lanzi, a member of the board of governors, who decided a celebration should be held to mark the arrival of a watering system, agreed with Keefer. "You can feel a pride within our membership that was never here before." Many aren't aware of the historical significance of the acreage they play on and that's unfortunate.

The King of England granted 167 acres to Dr. John Stevenson in 1734, which was hardly the day before yesterday. It was called Fellowship Farm and during the War of 1812, while Francis Scott Key was composing the first country song, a hospital base was established there. Yes, there are ties to the past worthy of bragging about.

Nine years after it was turned into a club, the great depression hit the country. Men and women weren't playing golf. It came to pass that the management couldn't meet its financial obligations, defaulted, went into receivership and the Roland Park Homeland Co. bought the entire layout for $15,000 in 1933.

Now the Country Club of Maryland can be likened to an old gem that had been left in the attic. It has been rediscovered, polished and buffed to a brilliancy it never knew before.

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